Genjo-Koan: Actualization of Reality, part 2

This is the second in a series of three lectures given by Rev. Shohaku Okumura on the first chapter of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo during Stillpoint’s April 2000 sesshin in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is being reprinted here from Stillpoint’s newsletter. When all dharmas are the buddha dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. When ten thousand dharmas are not [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and no perishing. Since the buddha way by nature goes beyond [the dichotomy of] abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas.- from the first chapter of Shobogenzo [True Dharma Eye Treasury/Genjo-koan (Actualization of Reality)]. In the first lecture of this series I talked about the title of Genjo-koan . Now I’d like to talk about the first three sentences of Genjo-koan . These first three sentences are the one of the most interesting parts of Genjo-koan. Since ancient times, many Zen masters have discussed what this means. In the first sentence, he said, “When all dharmas are the buddha dharma,” “All dharmas” means all beings, all existence, everything, including the function of our mind. Since we are Buddha’s children, we see all dharmas as buddha dharma (Buddha’s teachings). So there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. One of the basic teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni was the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha taught this in his first teachings to the five monks after his attainment of buddhahood. The first truth is the truth of suffering. The second truth is the cause of suffering. Buddha said the basic cause of suffering is delusion and attachment. Attachment comes out of ignorance of the reality of our life. Buddha said the reality of our life is impermanence and egolessness. Everything is impermanent, so everything is always changing, depending upon causes and condit ions. There’s nothing fixed, no substance. We can’t grasp anything. And yet because we don’t see that reality, we attach ourselves to many things we love, and we hope those things do not change. Particularly this person. We grasp this body and mind as “me” (ego). Although there’s nothing we can grasp and attach to, still we have some kind of energy which attaches to things, especially to ourselves, to this body and mind. Our own body and mind are something very special for us. We think this “I” is the center of the world and more important than anything else. This attachment caused by ignorance is the cause of suffering, according to Buddha. And that is the usual way we live. We live based on ignorance. That’s why our life becomes suffering. Ignorance, greed and anger (or hatred) are called the three poisonous minds. Greed and anger are two opposite symptoms of attachment to ourselves. When we encounter something we want, we become greedy and want to make it our possession. When we encounter something we don’t like, we get angry or we hate it. Those three poisonous minds make our life suffering. Buddha said it’s possible to become free from the three poisonous minds, and free from suffering. That is the third truth: the cessation of suffering-nirvana. The fourth truth is the path that leads us to the cessation of suffering. The Eightfold Right Path – right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right samadhi -as our practice is the cause of cessation of suffering. The way we usually live is within the first pair of cause and result (suffering as result and ignorance as cause). First we have to realize the reality of our life -that is, impermanence and egolessness. To see impermanence and egolessness is “right view” within the Eightfold Right Path. We need to live based on the right view and practice the other seven. This practice of the Eightfold Right Path enables us to become free from suffering. That is nirvana. This is the basic teaching of Buddha. There is a way of life based on the three poisonous minds, and there is a way of life based on the right view that sees the reality of impermanence and egolessness. Our practice of the Eightfold Right Path is the practice that leads us from living based on delusion to the way of life based on the right view. So there is delusion and realization. Cessation of suffering is nirvana. And there is practice. Practice is the path that leads us from delusion to realization, or samsara to nirvana. And also there is life and death. And buddhas and living beings. According to Mahayana Buddhism, there are many buddhas who awaken to that reality of being free from suffering and samsara. Living beings are still deluded and suffering in samsara. If there is no delusion and realization, no living beings who are suffering in samsara and who are released from samsara, Buddha’s teaching can’t make any sense. That is the very basic teaching of Buddhism. But in the second sentence of Genjo-koan Dogen says, “When ten thousand dharmas are not [fixed] self, there is no delusion and no realization, no buddhas and no living beings, no birth and no perishing.” The word “fixed” is my addition. Dogen just said “not self.” Ten thousand dharmas means all beings. All beings have no substance, no fixed self. That means everything is impermanent and egoless. Therefore he said, there is no delusion and no realization, or buddhas who attain realization and no living beings who are suffering. There is no such thing as birth or death. In both sentences he says “when.” But this “when” means “always.” It’s not a certain time in certain conditions. These two sentences are about the same beings. In the first sentence, he says there are those things. In the second sentence, he says there aren’t. This is perfect contradiction. So, we are stuck and wonder what Dogen meant. My understanding of these first two sentences is that these are a summary of Dogen’s understanding of Buddha’s teaching. If you read the Heart Sutra, it says there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no stopping and no path. That means there are no Four Noble Truths and no Eightfold Right Path. What the Heart Sutra said and what Buddha said is in the same contradiction with the first and second sentence in Genjo-koan. It’s easier to understand the first sentence. We are suffering because we attach ourselves to many things. That makes our life more difficult. So we want to be released from this ego attachment. Then our life might be easier and better. Between these two sentences, there are at least five hundred years of history of Buddhism. After Buddha’s death, Buddha’s disciples studied what the Buddha taught and practiced them. In order to be free from samsara or free from living ruled by three poisonous minds, they needed to live in a quiet place. They had to leave society, where there are so many conflicts and problems. So to be monks, people left society and lived in quiet places. The members of the monks’ community all had the same purpose, following the same teaching. Within such a monastery, people can be very peaceful and be free from the three poisonous minds, because there’s no conflict. Buddhist monasteries became larger and larger and more and more separate from the lay people living in the society. And eventually they started to think only monks can be released from suffering. If you want to reach nirvana, you have to leave home, society, your profession. Monks became a kind of professional practitioners and philosophers and made a lofty system of Abidharma philosophy and practice. That was somehow different from the original intention of the Buddha. The Buddha appeared to this world to save all sentient beings, especially people who are suffering in samsara. That’s one of the reasons Mahayana Buddhism criticized those monks in monasteries who didn’t impart or teach much, even though they were supported financially by lay society. Mahayana Buddhists thought all living beings, not only human beings, should be released and should reach nirvana. Within Mahayana, basically there’s no decisive distinction between monks and lay people. Both are bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas means “Buddha’s children.” Buddha’s children means that when they grow and mature, they all become buddhas. The philosophical basis of Mahayana Buddhism was the idea of emptiness. Emptiness means there’s no fixed self or entities or substance. That’s what Dogen said in the first part of the second sentence: “When ten thousand dharmas are not [fixed] self,” that means there’s no fixed thing called delusion, and there is no fixed thing called enlightenment, because both are empty. Everything is a collection of causes and conditions. There are no fixed groups of people as deluded human beings and enlightened buddhas. Delusion and realization have no fixed nature. Birth and death are the same. If there’s no self, what is born? That is just a temporary condition of causes and elements. Something appears, like a bubble. And it disappears. But nothing really appears and nothing really disappears. That’s what many of the Mahayana sutras said. Precisely because of the emptiness of all things, we can be released from suffering. If everything has fixed substance, there’s no way we can be released, because deluded human beings have to be permanently deluded human beings. Since everything is not fixed, we can change. Our practice changes the causes and conditions. Our practice allows us to be free from suffering even if we are not monks or full time practitioners. Even if we are lay practitioners, we can be free from suffering, from the three poisonous minds, if we sincerely practice. That is what Mahayana Buddhism taught. They thought all buddhas appeared to save all living beings. These first two sentences of Genjo-koan are two sides of one reality. We cannot negate either. These are two sides of Buddha’s teaching. That’s the way Buddha’s teaching becomes complete: by putting “no” in front of each of the Four Noble Truths, the Four Noble Truths become complete. This “no” is not simply a logical negation, but liberation from clinging. Those are two sides of one reality, or one teaching of dharma. When we attach to either side, we create mistakes. If we only see the first side and cling to it, we think that there is fixed delusion and fixed enlightenment, and we cling to practice which allows us to go from a fixed entity called delusion or suffering to a fixed entity called enlightenment or nirvana. This practice creates another suffering, because within our lifetime, it’s very difficult to achieve such realization or attainment of nirvana. And yet we cling to this idea. When we mistakenly attach to the second side, we see there’s no enlightenment, no delusion, no suffering, no buddhas and no living beings. Then why do we have to practice? Why do we have to make efforts? That is another problem caused by attachment to the Mahayana teaching, or the teaching of emptiness. We call it “sickness of emptiness.” When we grasp the idea of emptiness with our egocentered mind, and simply think there’s no delusion, no enlightenment, no buddha, no deluded human being, that means everything is just as it is. Why do we have to practice? Why do we have to study? That was Dogen’s original question when he was young, when he studied Mahayana. Mahayana said all beings have buddha nature. Everything is reality as it is. If so, then why do buddhas and ancestors have to study Buddhist teachings and practice, going through so much difficulty? If everything is empty, then why do we have to practice? Dogen started to practice Zen. He wasn’t satisfied with Zen in Japan at the time. That’s why he went to China. I think that the third sentence is the answer he found in China. In the third sentence he discusses “the buddha way.” In the first two sentences, he talks about “buddha dharma.” Dharma is the way things are. Buddha way is different from buddha dharma. Buddha way is our way of life as our practice. We have to study, practice, and work. We have to walk on the way using our own legs. This is actual life as our practice. As Buddha’s children, we need to live based on Buddha’s teachings. This life – living based on Buddha’s teaching – is buddha way. The direction of buddha way is toward buddhahood. The buddha way is the way through which Buddha’s children become buddhas. Dogen said, “Since the buddha way by nature goes beyond [the dichotomy of] abundance and deficiency, there is arising and perishing, delusion and realization, living beings and buddhas.”


part three

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